Bloomberg Law
Aug. 31, 2022, 7:05 PM

Dallas Weekly Defeats Libel Claims Brought by Conservative Donor

Janet Miranda
Janet Miranda

A Dallas newspaper won an appeal to dismiss a libel lawsuit from a local hotelier mogul and conservative donor over an article that reported his purchase of Dallas Express as a new right wing propaganda site, with a ruling by a Texas appeals court.

Businessman Monty Bennett sued journalist Steven Monacelli and Dallas Weekly, Inc. after it published an article saying his purchase of the Dallas Express, a historically Black newspaper, would turn it into a “right wing propaganda site.”

Monacelli also described Dallas Express as a “pay-to-play” and “fake news” site in the article and attributed that to a report by D Magazine, another local news outlet.

Monacelli and Dallas Weekly moved to dismiss the claims against them pursuant to the Texas Citizens Participation Act, alleging that the speech was protected by the First Amendment. A trial court disagreed and denied their motion.

Under Texas law, defendants are protected from libel suits stemming from publication of articles on matters of public concern if the statements are true, the Texas Court of Appeals, Twelfth District said.

Monacelli’s attribution of the “pay-to-play” and “fake news” statements to a third-party protects him because he reported on someone else’s statements without enhancing or presenting them as truth, the court said.

The court also held that the “right wing propaganda” statement was an assertion of opinion and constitutionally protected. Bennett argued that this statement was “objectively false” rather than a non-actionable opinion, but the court disagreed.

The court defined propaganda as spreading ideas, facts, or allegations to further one’s cause or damage an opponent’s cause. And when viewed in context, Monacelli’s article is “clearly” an opinion regarding the likely editorial viewpoint of Dallas Express, the court said.

Justice Greg Neeley delivered the opinion on Tuesday. Justice Brian Hoyle and Chief Justice James T. Worthen joined.

The court reversed the trial court’s order denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss and remanded the case to hash out attorneys’ fees.

Vinson & Elkins represented Monacelli and The Dallas Weekly. Martin Bennett of Athens, Texas represented Bennett and Dallas Express Media.

The case is Monacelli v. Bennett, Tex. App., 12th Dist., No. 12-22-00044-CV, 8/30/22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Janet Miranda in Houston at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at; Patrick L. Gregory at